Full of glistening stupas, abundant rice fields, mysterious temples and rugged mountain paths, the landscape and scenery of Myanmar are gorgeous. Here, we outline the contours of a country – from Yangon to Mandalay, from Bagan to Inle Lake – that Kipling famously described as “Unlike any other”.
Begin your trip to Myanmar with a visit to the 2,500-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda. Best seen at sunset, when golden rays explode into a spectrum of colours and locals congregate for a traditional lamp lighting ceremony, try to fit in the highlights of Yangon beforehand. These include the High Court, City Hall and red-brick General Post Office. Then refuel on the national dish; a fish broth with noodles called “mohinga” that can be customised endlessly, before visiting Ngar Htat Gyi Pagoda and its huge sitting Buddha.
No visit to Myanmar would be complete without a leisurely stroll through Sagaing, a land where the hills are dotted with monasteries. Its reputation likely contributed to Kipling’s famous poem, On the Road to Mandalay (1892), which evokes nostalgia for South East Asia’s exoticism with its pagodas and Kalaga-tapestry workshops. Mandalay is, after all, where the world’s “largest book” can be found. Consisting of 729 marble slabs that detail important parts of the Theravada Buddhist scriptures, many originally appeared even more impressive than they do now, with gold letters, headings and borders.
Another record holder, down the Ayeyarwady River in Mingun, is a giant bell. Weighing in at 87 tonnes, the Mingun Bell is the world’s largest ringing bronze bell. Used in Buddhist ceremonies for countless reasons, from emphasising the emptiness of the physical world to calling for a sense of mindfulness, the temple that holds the bell is incomplete. This is thanks to a prophecy stating that if it is ever finished the country’s existence shall be, too.
At all times in Myanmar, visitors are taken aback by the nation’s unspoilt villages. Famous for their tobacco trade and entrepreneurship, on any roadside stall you’ll find myriad of items for sale, from traditional Burmese slippers to chequered cotton blankets, from Papier Mache animals and dolls to wood-carvings. Try to stop by a Cheroot maker’s place if possible. Rolling out huge cigars in small groups, the ladies are often to be found cracking jokes or catching up on local gossip, but will often let visitors try their own skills with the cheroot leaves.
Before leaving the country, don’t forget to visit Inle Lake’s villages (places like Ywarma, known for its teak houses built on stilts), or one of its local markets. Packed with lots of different ethnicities, Inle’s otherwise calm waters are punctuated with floating market boats. Just remember, don’t panic if the fishermen appear in trouble – they’re not! They just prefer to row standing up with one leg wrapped around an oar, leaving their hands free to manipulate the conical fishing net.
If the sacred land of Myanmar, with its rich culture and ancient customs, sounds like an enticing destination, why not book a place on the Secrets of Myanmar trip?